Betsy DeVos: What a Weak Nominee Looks Like

In a confirmation hearing, one might face tough questioning, and those tough questions might – understandably – trip up a nominee. What shouldn’t happen, to someone of normal ability and proper preparation, is to stumble over simple, straightforward questions.

That’s what happened to Trump nominee for secretary of education Betsy DeVos: she stumbled (indeed, almost threw herself to the ground) over direct questions that a capable nominee could have answered: (1) about her wealth, (2) about the difference between growth and proficiency, and (3) about guns in schools. A more capable nominee could have managed these questions easily; she’s not that nominee.

Sen. Sanders asks about DeVos how she became Trump’s nominee:

Sanders: “Okay. My question is, and I don’t mean to be rude. Do you think, if you were not a multi-billionaire, if your family had not made hundreds of millions of dollars of contributions to the Republican Party, that you would be sitting here today?”

DeVos: “Senator, as a matter of fact, I do think that there would be that possibility. I’ve worked very hard on behalf of parents and children for the last almost 30 years to be a voice for students and to empower parents to make decisions on behalf of their children, primarily low-income children.”

How she should have answered: Avoid answering with ‘would be that possibility’; begin with a detailed list of accomplishments in the very first words of her reply, e.g., “There are x contributions that I’ve made to education in this country, and I can list and describe them all, in order, to you now…”

Sen. Franken asks DeVos about the difference between growth and proficiency (where proficiency is hitting a benchmark and growth is about progress from one level of ability to another):

DeVos: “I think, if I’m understanding your question correctly around proficiency, I would also correlate it to competency and mastery, so that each student is measured according to the advancement they’re making in each subject area.”

Franken: “Well, that’s growth. That’s not proficiency.  I’m talking about the debate between proficiency and growth and what your thoughts are on that.”

How she should have answered: DeVos should have known – and made clear she knew – the difference between the two ways to measure progress; contending that she was just clarifying Franken’s question doesn’t mitigate the obvious truth that she didn’t see the distinction between the two. (Franken clearly does understand the difference, so she’s not clarifying his words, she’s making her own error). She either truly doesn’t know the difference, or lacks the intellectual ability or composure to comprehend a question in a formal setting.

Sen. Murphy asks about guns in schools:

Murphy: Do you think guns have any place in or around schools?

DeVos: That is best left to locales and states to decide. If the underlying question is—

Murphy: You can’t say definitively today that guns shouldn’t be in schools?

DeVos: I will refer back to [Wyoming] Sen. [Mike] Enzi and the school he was talking about in Wapiti, Wyoming. I think probably there, I would imagine that there is probably a gun in the schools to protect from potential grizzlies.

How she should have answered: Anything but this. Referring to a senator’s remark about wildlife doesn’t help here. Candidly, she would have been better off contending that guns were useful to defend against Martians: at least she might have been able to later say that she was joking.

Contending that guns in schools are needed to defend against wildlife is world-class buffoonery. A defense, if any, would have to talk about human threats and emphasize limitations to assure those possessing guns were well-trained. The problem here is that there are very few parents who will accept that well-trained means someone other than a police officer. She would have been better off to advocate for more police; even then, there are legitimate concerns about the quality of police training in communities that hire poorly and skimp on training costs.)

Her position is a hard political one to hold in any event, but talking about grizzlies is simply embarrassing.

Trump promised America that he would hire the “best people“; in DeVos he’s picked someone either too dim or too lazy to represent herself adequately, to a level that the vast majority of her fellow citizens easily meet each day.

Distillation for a Resistance (First Edition)

We’re early in this new political era, with a long time ahead of us, and there’s a need to get a sense of one’s bearings. (The sound way to approach the new politics that has overcome America through the three-thousand-year traditional of liberty to be found in many places, the Online Library of Liberty being only one. But that’s the reading and study of a lifetime; there are essays contemporary to us that are both useful and readily distilled.)

These recent essays and posts consider, or a useful to understand, the incipient authoritarianism of America’s next administration. They are a good basis for a beginning, for a distillation of one’s thinking.

Some recent essays for consideration:

Trump’s Search for a Latino Cabinet Secretary

After insulting millions of Latinos during his campaign, Trump’s now having trouble recruiting from among that community, and for that problem he should look in a mirror:

if Trump is having trouble finding Latinos willing to serve in his administration, for fear of being labeled an “Uncle Juan” or a vendido (sellout), he has only himself to blame. His rhetoric has made his persona, brand, and administration toxic to many Latinos. An Associated Press review of the Trump Organization found few Latinos or other minorities in senior leadership roles. Trump refers to Latinos as “The Hispanics” and his idea of Latino outreach during the presidential race was tweeting a picture of himself eating something called a “taco bowl.”

During the campaign, Trump promised that he’d hire only the “best people” for his administration, yet many talented people (of any ethnicity) are unwilling to work for Trump. One reads that Trump Is Desperately Seeking A Latino For His Cabinet. Tom Philpott reports that one (laughable) option turns out to be three-time political loser Abel Maldonado:

Maldonado is the latest in a parade of names Team Trump has floated for USDA, a chaotic process that I last updated here. In California politics, Maldonado is seen as a fallen prodigy. His political career peaked in 2009, when then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed the then-state senator as lieutenant governor. Less then a year later, Maldonado’s campaign to retain that office failed miserably. Since then, he has made unsuccessful bids for a seat in the US House and governor.

In 2016, Maldonado reportedly pitched himself as a potential reality TV star. Here’s The Sacramento Bee:

A video compilation that has rocketed around the Internet recently opens with an apparent working title: Meet the Maldonados. In it, the former state legislator and unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial candidate can be seen drinking wine with his daughter, asking his son about having a condom and laughing after his wife informs their daughter that “we watched porn when you were conceived.”

At one point, a horse starts relieving itself in Maldonado’s house. “Yeah, Sacramento’s better than this,” a flustered Maldonado mutters as he cleans up.

Still, Trump has jobs to fill, and so he’s gone from promising only the best people to searching among the tares to see what he can find.

The Work of the Next Several Years 

Charles Blow writes of the work ahead for those many citizens who now find themselves compelled to defend their rights:

I fully understand that elevated outrage is hard to maintain. It’s exhausting.

But the alternative is surrender to national nihilism and the welcoming of woe.

The next four years could be epochal years in the history of this country. They could test the limits of presidential power and the public’s passivity.

I happen to believe that history will judge kindly those who continued to shout, from the rooftops, through their own weariness and against the corrosive drift of conformity: This is not normal!

Via Donald Trump, This Is Not Normal! – The New York Times.

One cannot say that this will be the work only of the next few years, knowing that often a few years stretch into several. There will be some moments of weariness; they will prove nothing as against the vigor that comes from being in the right.

Who Runs the Economy?

Consider this Twitter exchange between liberty-oriented Republican Justin Amash and a Trump supporter, over the suitability of Trump’s cabinet appointments:

The Trump supporter thinks that the credentials of a cabinet nominee justify the appointment; Rep. Amash rightly sees that credentials do not define the scope of legitimate state action.

How Much, and What Kind, of Military Spending?

Analysts from five Washington policy institutes[1] have published a joint report asking (1) what should American defense strategy be? (2) what capabilities, investments, and force structure might that strategy require? and (3) what would such a military cost?  (The five institutes are not of the same views, with the Cato Institute’s Benjamin H. Friedman notable for advocating fiscal and strategic restraint.)

Here’s the report:

Download (PDF, 4.41MB)

[1] The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), The Cato Institute, The Center for a New American Security (CNAS), and The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

The National-Local Mix

localI’ve written at FREE WHITEWATER for over nine years, and I’ll be writing here for far longer to come.  A good friend asked me today if I’d given up on local coverage, and the easy answer is…not at all.  We’ve a small and beautiful city, well worth talking about and contending over.   A few quick remarks for longtime readers, and for some new readers who’ve come to FW since the election —

Plain Views.  I’ve written plainly before, and I’ll do the same now.  My views are libertarian, from a family that was liberty-oriented before the term libertarian became popular. (Dean Russell sometimes gets credit for boosting the word libertarian in 1955, but of course the ideas involved are far older.)  My family came here before the Revolution, and they and many others have held liberty-centric political views throughout their time on this continent, using other descriptions for their politics before libertarian took off in the second half of the twentieth century.

One could say less in the hope of pleasing more, but that’s likely futile.  I would happily decline an invitation to a gathering that favored acceptance over conviction (in the improbable & unwelcome event that anyone would send such an invitation to me).

The Limits of Local.  One of the themes of this site is that towns like ours accomplish the most when they embrace American and not local standards for politics & economics.  In fact, hyper-local standards in politics & economics are lesser standards, easy and comfortable for the myopic but inadequate for a competitive people.  There are a few websites or newspapers nearby that are hyper-local in focus.  That makes sense if one’s writing about a sewing club; it’s both sad and laughable as one’s way of considering political, economic, or fiscal policy.  If hyper-local politics were enough, then one might as well embrace a small village in authoritarian Russia as a small town in democratic America.

Putin’s not detestable because he speaks Russian; he’s detestable because he’s returned oppression to Russia.  The undeniable prettiness of particular Russian villages lessens Putin’s many sins, and Russia’s hardships, not in the slightest.

In same way, Whitewater is not beautiful simply because, so to speak, she’s beautiful; she’s beautiful because America is a free country of which Whitewater is one part.  Hyper-localism at the price of national standards reminds of nothing so much as Socrates’s remarks on the unexamined life.

Whitewater’s Near Term.  I’m an optimist about Whitewater’s longterm, but these next several years will prove difficult for this small, midwestern city.  Whitewater has significant poverty (especially child poverty), and limited growth.  Considering the principal possibilities of a drastic change of course now or a renaissance after continued decline, I’d guess we’ll prove an example of a city that chooses poorly, declines relatively, and rebounds only afterward.   (It needn’t have been this way, but too many mistakes have taken us past the point of a different course.)

Many have enjoyed the James & Deborah Fallows American Futures series on thriving small towns, and it’s disappointing to write that Whitewater’s near future probably will not be like that of those growing towns; there’s much that’s disconcerting about surveying a city – however naturally pretty – that’s a cautionary tale of what not to do.  Disconcerting, but not hard – the hardship of the wrong course will not fall on someone writing about our city, but on the many vulnerable people within it.

The future will write the history of the present; with few exceptions, it will be unkind to the last generation of local policymakers.

Logo.  When I write about local topics, I’ll add the logo that appears in the upper-left corner of this post.

The Mix of National and Local.  Most people in our city, or any other, are naturally sharp.  It’s a libertarian teaching – because it is true and always has been – that the overwhelming number of people are capable and clever (and so need less governmental meddling than they receive).  People who voted for one major party candidate or another are not worse for doing so.  It’s impossible that Americans were fundamentally good until a few weeks ago.

Voting for Clinton or Trump did not make the average person better or worse.  I don’t write this to ingratiate – that wouldn’t be my way, one can guess – but because saying so is consistent with what I have always believed about people.  (In any event, if someone who voted his or her conscience needs reassurance now, he or she should think more carefully.)

Trump is a fundamentally different candidate from those who have come before him.  Not grasping this would be obtuse.  Writing only about sewing circles or local clubs or a single local meeting while ignoring Trump’s vast power as president – and what it will bring about – would be odd.

Someone in Tuscany, circa 1925, had more to write about than the countryside.

One may think otherwise, of course.  It’s simply unrealistic to expect a libertarian to think otherwise (at least if the term is to have any meaning).

I’m not worried about posting both national and local topics, as though some nationally-focused posts will detract from local coverage.  The local die has been cast.  Describing near term local events is now careful narration more than advocacy.  There’s much to say, and in detail, but for local policymakers in this town there’s little room to move.  Perhaps the shifts they can make in the near future will still help those in need.

These will prove, I think, challenging times for those both near and far.

Kakistocracy

There’s a vast difference between the average Trump supporter (similar in most ways to most people) and the people who served in the Trump Campaign and who will serve in a Trump Administration (composed of generous helpings of mediocrities, liars, or bigots).

Ryan Lizza’s found the Greek term kakistocracy, a term that will apply nicely to a Trump Administration:

The Greeks have a word for the emerging Trump Administration: kakistocracy. The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as a “government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens.” Webster’s is simpler: “government by the worst people.”

The term’s likely to grow in use: Trump’s doing his very best to build an administration of the very worst officials.

Eliot Cohen’s Wise Advice: Don’t Serve Trump

Conservative foreign policy scholar (and member of the Bush Administration) Eliot Cohen admits, “I told conservatives to work for Trump. One talk with his team changed my mind” —

Nemesis pursues and punishes all administrations, but this one will get a double dose. Until it can acquire some measure of humility about what it knows, and a degree of magnanimity to those who have opposed it, it will smash into crises and failures. With the disarray of its transition team, in a way, it already has.

My bottom line: Conservative political types should not volunteer to serve in this administration, at least for now. They would probably have to make excuses for things that are inexcusable and defend people who are indefensible. At the very least, they should wait to see who gets the top jobs. Until then, let the Trump team fill the deputy assistant secretary and assistant secretary jobs with civil servants, retired military officers and diplomats, or the large supply of loyal or obsequious second-raters who will be eager to serve. The administration may shake itself out in a year or two and reach out to others who have been worried about Trump. Or maybe not.

By staying away, prospects will preserve their integrity while in opposition; those who join will prove to be – or soon become – as unsuitable as the man they serve.

The Next Secretary of the Interior?


While there is much talk about high-profile cabinet posts like State, Defense, and Justice, there are lower-profile posts that will still attract both interested parties and occasional controversies.  The Department of the Interior is among them.  Prospects for that cabinet secretary include  oil baron Forrest Lucas (a big contributor to Mike Pence’s gubernatorial campaigns), venture capitalist Robert Grady, Donald Trump, Jr., and Sarah Palin.
Randall O’Toole spots much better picks, with a better strategy, than the leading contenders:

As Secretary, either Palin or Lucas would be likely to try to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration and extraction. Bush tried this in 2001 and the environmentalists successfully prevented it. Instead of going after the most controversial piece of ground in the nation, Bush should have–and Trump should–start with opening less controversial areas to show that oil development is compatible with wildlife and other resources.

In the same way, instead of controversial figures like Palin or Lucas, Trump could ask Gary Johnson to be Secretary of the Interior. As a former western governor, Johnson is more familiar with public lands than Lucas. As a dedicated free marketeer, Johnson won’t be committed to one resource over all others; instead, he will try to find ways to maximize the value of all of them together.

Johnson’s Libertarian candidacy shouldn’t make him unacceptable, but if it does, how about current Arizona Governor Doug Ducey? As former CEO of Cold Stone Creamery, Ducey isn’t identified with one natural resource or another. As a fiscally conservative Republican, Ducey should fit right in with Trump’s agenda.

See, A Non-Polarizing Secretary of the Interior @ Cato.

I would be stunned if Johnson got an offer, let alone took the job, but then being stunned isn’t so rare as it once was.  O’Toole’s right, though, to expect better than the conventional options (or certainly the unconventional option of Trump’s namesake.)

The Public Records Law Still Stands

After a push to alter Wisconsin’s Public Records Law (Wis. Stat. §§ 19.31-19.39), we’re now secure with the original law intact.  

Below one will find a recording of Wisconsin A.G. Brad Schimel’s Open Government Summit, held earlier this week at the Concourse in Madison.  

J.B. Hollen, Schimel’s immediate predecessor, started strongly in favor of the Public Records Law but was less supportive in his second term.  A.G. Schimel’s approach is better for the public, although it’s disadvantageous for public officials seeking to conceal information from the very residents to whom they are legally obligated.

(It’s also helpful that support for the law is widespread, and not confined to the party in opposition.  Two of the key opponents of gutting the law have been the MacIver Institute, a conservative think tank, and Rick Esenberg’s Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a conservative-leaning public interest firm.)

But one has this problem, that has grown worse over these last few years: too many officials, in cities, towns, and universities, have decided that they can reply to a public records request however they’d like.  Replies like this are dares: will you go to court over this?  Alternatively, will you accept what we’ve supplied, however inadequate in reply it so obviously is? 

Some denials may be over fair questions of interpretation; that’s not what I’m describing.  Many denials are a test of one’s citizenship, of one’s rights in a free, well-ordered society: can someone successfully compel others to accept less than their rights require, consigning them to an inferior position in disregard of the law?

There’s no way to know how a requester will respond to an insufficient reply until the need arises, of course.  It’s helpful, though, to state plainly a path one will follow.  Having stated as much, officials will not be able to say they’ve been blindsided.

This summit was long, I know, and time is precious.  Still, there’s much in here, useful for thinking about government, on one’s own, rather than relying on officials’ superficial, self-serving declarations.  

If Universities Want Federal Money…

If universities want federal money (and they want as much as they can get), then it’s wrong for them to shirk federal legal standards for reporting assault and for proper treatment of those alleging assault. 

(Make no mistake: I’d contend that universities have a duty to manage campuses well and fairly even if there were no federal laws.  Ethical obligations of this kind are prior to law, and exist independently of it.)

Here, though, there’s a despicable hypocrisy: university officials gulp as much federal money as they can get, but of federal procedural standards for victims there may be not even a drop of support.

This libertarian has argued against any number of federal, state, or local governmental intrusions; I’ve argued against as many federal, state, and local expenditures. 

It’s impossible to respect university administrators who seek federal money while simultaneously concealing & mishandling assault claims, or trivializing federal or state standards about assault reporting.   

Administrators of that ilk want to promote themselves at taxpayers’ expense, and then hide their own misconduct from any and all. 

No, and no again: no one’s entitled to that. 

UW-Madison Now Joins UW-Whitewater Under Federal Title IX Investigation

In the Wisconsin State Journal this morning, one reads that a second Wisconsin school is under investigation for its handling of sexual assault complaints.  Dan Simmons writes that

UW-Madison is now the second university in the state to be included in a growing probe of possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The investigation now targets 101 schools, including UW-Madison and UW-Whitewater. The initial investigation was launched last May and included 55 schools, Whitewater among them.

See, in full, UW-Madison under federal investigation for handling of sexual violence complaints @ State Journal.

Investigations of this sort can involve either how a university reports incidents of sexual assault, or how it treats those who are trying to report allegations of sexual assault. 

One should be clear: federal law does not mandate – needless to say – that there will be no crimes on campus.  Federal law simply requires that, following allegations of sexual assault, universities that receive federal money will process complaints thoroughly and treat those involved in complaints fairly.

One would hope for campuses without violence; these present laws simply require that institutions taking federal public money should address allegations of assault to the high standards of which America is capable. 

There are thousands of four-year colleges in America; each one should be able to meet existing reporting and procedural requirements. 

That’s not asking too much; it’s asking only for the fundamental fairness and thoroughness our society deserves. 

The Public-Sector Public-Relations Problem

There’s almost no part of government, down to the smallest unit, that doesn’t approach the public as though a salesperson, as a matter of persuasion through public or media relations.

Consider how odd, how ironic, this situation is: government, whose authority derives in a free society only from the public, uses public resources to present itself craftily and deceptively to the very people to whom government owes its very existence

One would expect candor in that relationship, and instead one finds mostly sophistry. 

So, instead of presenting a story simply and humbly, public agencies use others’ money in taxes to present themselves as though they were not mere public officials, but angels, archangels, and demigods. 

If someone sent one of these officials out to report the weather, he’d return with a story about how he (personally and selflessly) braved a hurricane, two tornadoes, a hailstorm, and a thunderous avalanche, just to let others know that it was, in fact, sunny outside.

Of all the acts of government, few are so distorted as public men using public resources to exaggerate their own accomplishments, or understate their own mistakes, to the very people they claim to serve. 

Public Choice Theory Inoculates People from Poor Policy

In places big and small, one of the many questions for residents is this: is holding government office, whether elected or appointed, a more virtuous way of life than private activity? 

If it should prove more virtuous, then one can reasonably contend that long-tenured government officials are, themselves, more virtuous than private citizens.

One could think of this as the theory of the noble Romans, as tribunes of the people, as selfless defenders of all.

This idea of government office as an especially noble calling is false: human nature does not change when a man or woman enters public office.  People are self-interested by nature, and this nature does not change when one sits behind a government desk. 

Of public and private, one is neither better nor worse than the other.  It’s the insistence that public life is a better way that presents countless problems for society.  There’s as much virtue in being a baker as there is in being governor.

It’s impossible, truly, to read early (and foundational) American political theory without seeing that the Founders understood that self-interest afflicts all, including government officials.

Needless to say, ceaselessly insisting that government work is noble work, as though government officials were contemplative monks in a monastery, gives government officials two false (but useful) claims to make against critics:

1.  That they should necessarily be given particular deference in society over private citizens, and

2.  That their ideas and plans should necessarily be given particular deference over private citizens’ ideas or assessments.

Neither claim is true, but they work a certain magic on the impressionable or insecure, rendering men and women who should live well and reasonably into mere subjects who live poorly and under a false impression.  

Public choice theory cures people of the false impression that a few government men are better than others, teaching correctly that human nature is the same among those in public or private life.

(This is, of course, a simplification of that theory, yet an accurate description of one of its key tenets.)

In the same way, the strength of human reasoning, and tools of analysis, are equally available to all, whether publicly or privately situated.  That a public man proposes a plan does not render the plan immune to the principles of reasoning available to private criticism.

The surest policies, to the extent anything is sure, come from officials who present simply and plainly, without grand claims or giddy anticipation, recognizing that useful assessments and critiques may come from any corner, including the many private residents within a community.  

For more about Public Choice Theory, see Key Insights of Public Choice Thinking @ the Cato Institute.

Posted at Daily Adams and FREE WHITEWATER

Steps for Blogging on a Policy or Proposal

For bloggers who cover politics, policy-making, etc., just as would have been true of essayists and pamphleteers in an earlier time, it helps to have a method to one’s writing.  In the paragraphs below, I’ll list steps one should take when approaching a topic.  

The steps are in a rough order, but in any method, one sometimes returns to an earlier step, or jumps ahead if necessary.

1. Read.  Often long before writing, there’s reading (and listening).  One reads the documents in a proposal, including contracts, studies, and other supporting materials, and listens to presentations on the proposal.  

Reading and listening are more than a study of a particular proposal; they are a reliance on what one has read before, on the topic but also on other topics, perhaps seemingly unrelated at first blush.  In the end, what one reads – if it’s any good – is a review of others’ recounted experiences and analyses.  

Rely on the sound foundation of the works of respected authors and researchers.  

2.  Walk around.  If writing about a place, try to visit it if possible. Maps may produce a poor understanding of distance, line-of-sight, and the influence of weather. Similarly, if writing about devices, try to find one, to hold it in one’s hand, to learn how it looks and feels.

3.  Write initially.  After reading and listening and walking about or examining a device, start writing.  

Sometimes, all that one has read or experienced will offer a definite opinion.

Other times, one may begin merely with a series of questions.  It’s rare that a significant topic inspires just one question.  Questions are both a search for information and an expression of prior, informed understanding.  

Publish your questions.

It’s not an exercise of due diligence to ask one weak question, to ignore the need for a responsive answer, or to fail to act after the vague answers one receives (or does not even receive).  Asking a question and doing nothing after getting no answer or a poor answer isn’t an exercise in accountability, but instead an abdication of it.

Politics is littered with those who think that one tepid question is enough, and that the mere asking somehow fulfills one’s duty.  America did not become a great and advanced republic through timid political and scientific inquiry.

4.  Informal requests to officials.  If you’ve a few questions you’d like to ask directly, do so with an announcement of those same questions to your readers.

It’s a mistake to think that private conversations with officials will advance blogging on public issues.  (See, as an example, mention in FREE WHITEWATER from 11.6.13 letting readers know that I would be asking Whitewater’s city manager about particular documents.)

Private discussions always run the risk of being manipulated to officials’ advantage.  If one would like to be a tool or toad of government, then one can always join a fish-wrap community newspaper, where every day is an exercise in sycophancy.  

5.  Formal requests.  If an inquiry demands a public records request under state or federal law, go ahead and submit one.  As with an informal request to officials, publish the full request online after you’ve submitted it.  Let readers see what you’re seeking from government, verbatim.

In the same way, publish what you receive in reply to your request.  I’ve come to see that it’s a mistake to leave a government’s reply unpublished. Readers should see the full reply.

Be prepared to follow up.  A reply will likely raise other questions.  Let your readers know those questions, including any subsequent, formal records request.  

6.  Litigation.  Never threaten what one is not prepared to do; don’t publish threats (of litigation) in any event.  

(There was an odd situation like this a year ago between two Wisconsin bloggers, where one of them taunted the other with the risk of a lawsuit.  It was a sorry affair.  The law is not a threat; it’s a defense.)     

When writing about a major topic, think – as best as one can – about where it might lead. Most topics, needless to say and thankfully so, will never be the subject of lawsuits.  For a very few, that might be a possibility.  

Consult with a lawyer if you have significant questions, about whether to obtain documents, assure open meetings access, protect a right, or advance a vital public policy.  Conversations on any of these topics will be between the lawyer and the blogger-client, and afterward addressed methodically with sang-froid, that cold calm that’s useful for success. 

I’m sure I’ve missed much, but here’s the general method, some steps to be repeated, others never to be reached: (1) read & listen (2) visit places & study objects if possible, (3) write, asking questions where necessary, (4) submit informal requests to government if seemingly fruitful, (5) submit formal requests under the law, (6) consult an attorney for advice on rights under the law or limitations on government action.   

Having a method for blogging on policy makes writing better for both blogger and readers. It’s as simple as that.

The Crazy-Wrong Argument on Taxes

A succinct truth: money doesn’t grow on trees.

Local government funds municipal projects in one of three principal ways: through local taxes & fees, local borrowing (debt in the form of bonds), or public money from other jurisdictions (grants from the state or federal government).

These grants of state or federal public money are, themselves, from taxes or borrowing (at the federal level, this includes the reckless, inflationary option of simply printing more greenbacks).

In no case, however, in not a single one, do these grants come to a community without a tax impact.

And yet, and yet, official after official will contend that one can take state or federal money without a local consequence, with ‘zero tax impact’ (in the words of a poorly-reasoned newspaper editorial about purchasing expensive farmland as parkland). Residents of a Wisconsin county are simultaneously residents of the state and of America, after all.

(Those who talk about grabbing state and federal grants mean that they’ll take all of the supposed benefits but apportion the costs not merely to their own constituents but to a larger number elsewhere, who will receive no benefit at all.)

Even libertarians, as I am, accept that there will be some public spending, and that there should be some. The key questions are (1) on what objects will we spend? and (2) at what cost, immediately and in alternatives left unfunded?

Exhorting a county’s residents, for example, to “grab” state money now, for whatever silly project, is an exhortation to unthinking selfishness.

It’s all just stuffing more in, and more still, while others go without anything, as though there were no consequence to taking in whatever one can, or whatever comes by on a plate:

No, That’s Not Why There’s an Innovation Center

Perhaps, just perhaps, Whitewater’s a laboratory for testing the theory that if one repeats a flimsy explanation long enough, it will become true.

Over at the Daily Union, there’s a recent story about a university project that’s developed a smartphone app that allows users “to link organized recreational activities with social media.” One reads that it’s a “mobile community engagement platform.” (See, UW-Whitewater professor’s app helps park, recreation programs.)

Here’s what it reportedly does:

Strive is an app that can be downloaded to cell phones for free. It works with formal, often municipality-sponsored, recreational programs such as little league baseball teams, soccer teams, dance lessons, nature walks, or any recreational activity with the participants.

Fair enough, it’s an app for the limited number of smartphone-using people who often visit municipal parks, dances, nature walks, etc., and need an additional application to schedule their visits.

University Chancellor Telfer, predictably, sees all this in the grandest terms:

UW-Whitewater Chancellor Richard Telfer said the Strive app represents what the Innovation Center is all about.

“This product is the result of UW-Whitewater faculty members, students and the community sharing their creative talents,” he said. “This is exactly the kind of collaboration we envisioned when we conceived of the technology park. Companies like Slipstream have found the Whitewater Innovation Center to be a supportive base to grow their businesses.”

No, and no again: the millions in EDA funds and millions more in municipal debt were not spent so that Chancellor Telfer could crow about a smartphone app for scheduling park visits. Here’s why the federal government really spent that money (and why the city borrowed millions more):

September 7-September 11, 2009

….$4,740,809 to the Whitewater Community Development Authority, the University of Wisconsin Whitewater, and the City of Whitewater, Wisconsin, to fund construction of the new Innovation Center and infrastructure to serve the technology industrial park, including a road linking the project with the University of Wisconsin’s Whitewater campus. The goal of the project is to create jobs to replace those lost in the floods of 2008 and those lost from recent automotive plant closures. The Innovation Center will serve as both a training center and technology business incubator and will be constructed to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification standards. A portion of the project’s cost will be funded through EDA’s Global Climate Change Mitigation Incentive Fund. This investment is part of an $11,051,728 project which grantees estimate will help create 1,000 jobs and generate $60 million in private investment.

Those thousand jobs from blue-collar industry will not be replaced with money spent on white-collar welfare for smartphone-using residents.

No one needs or deserves a smartphone app created at public expense. No one. We’ve people who need food, clothing, and shelter in this very city and across Wisconsin.

Not only isn’t this the stated justification for these millions, it’s a shockingly slight justification at that.